What is Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depression)?
Most people with Bipolar Disorder have severe mood swings that affect their ability to function in daily life. These mood swings are more extreme than the normal ups and downs experienced by most people. The mood swings of bipolar disorder are called episodes and can last for days, weeks, or even months. Some patients with bipolar disorder feel intense bursts of energy, joy, euphoria, or irritability, typically followed by periods of deep and often disabling depression. Other people have mood swings that are less dramatic; however, untreated Bipolar Disorder tends to worsen with time and become increasingly treatment-resistant. Almost invariably, the manic or hypo-manic phase is followed by a devastating crash into a severe, disabling depression.
What predisposes people to having Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is hereditary, meaning that if you have any first-degree (and to a lesser extent, second-degree) relatives, you have a much higher chance of having bipolar disorder than someone with no family history of Psychiatric Illness. Suicides in family members and a family history drug or alcohol dependence also points more toward a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.
What types of Bipolar are there?
The most progressive thinking about Bipolar Disorder is that it is acontinuum disorder, not a disorder as we previously thought that simply divided those exhibiting Bipolar symptoms into:
(1.) Bipolar I,
(2.) Bipolar II,
(3.) Not Bipolar.
On the bipolarity continuum, one’s disorder can be assigned a severity based on the number of bipolar symptoms you exhibit, and the degree to which you exhibit those symptoms. For many, the manic part of Bipolar is enjoyable and they don’t want to give up that euphoria and increased productivity. The problem with that is that mania (even hypomania) will typically be followed by a state of depression and despair that, for many involves impulsive, risk-taking behaviors, which is when Bipolar patients are most likely to commit suicide, most likely to engage in excessive drug and alcohol use, and exhibit abusive behavior to family, coworkers and friends.
How to Recognize Bipolar Disorder:
What are the signs and symptoms of mania or hypomania?
Many people have a few of these signs and symptoms throughout their lives; People with bipolar disorder, whether on the low end of the severity spectrum or on the higher end, have these symptoms in clusters, then their mood will shift in the opposite direction and they will exhibit signs of depression.
Something to consider if you’re unsure if you have symptoms indicative of Bipolar Disorder: One of the symptoms of mania is the inability to recognize that you are ill, which lessens the likelihood that you will seek out and receive appropriate treatment before you have burned bridges, made bad judgments about important matters, lost relationships with loved ones, or engaged in illegal activities that could result in incarceration.
Signs and symptoms that someone is experiencing an episode of mania include:
- Significantly Increased energy, activity, or restlessness.
- Excessive happiness or euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability or anger
- Needing significantly less sleep than what is normal for that patient
- Racing thoughts or thoughts that jump from one topic to another
- Rapid or Pressured Speech
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Unrealistic feeling of personal power to accomplish any task (“grandiosity”)
- Exhibiting poor judgment and/or risk-taking behaviors such as:
- driving recklessly, spending sprees, making rash and often improper decisions regarding family, business, money, friends, engaging in risky business ventures, and choosing to use, often excessively, illegal drugs and alcohol.
- Lowered appetite
- Increased sex drive
What are the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing an episode of depression?
- Intense sadness, despair, disinterest, or complete inability to derive pleasure from anything.
- Loss of interest in activities.
- Loss of energy or feeling “slowed down”
- Feelings of Hopelessness, Helplessness, or Worthlessness.
- Sleeping too much or to little, or insomnia (which can include problems falling asleep, problems staying asleep, or waking up too early and not being able to return to sleep.
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Social Isolation
- Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts.
What if I don’t feel like I have Bipolar Disorder, even though the above symptoms describe me well?
Discuss this concern with your doctor. It is important to remember that most individuals experiencing a manic episode do not realize they are ill and may resist any efforts at treatment. Consider the following questions:
Have your mood states severely affected your family or social life?
Have your mood states negatively affected your work performance?
Have your mood states persisted for days or weeks with little change, or do they change when something positive happens?